As the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics indicates that crime is at a twenty year low in Canada, now is the time for rethinking the role of police in Canadian society. A recent report from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute points out, that police organizations are pricing themselves out of business. It’s a fair question to ask ‘Are Ontario communities receiving value for money for their police dollars?
Criminological research reveals that less than 20 per cent of the work that police perform in our towns and cities is crime or law enforcement oriented. The balance of police duties fall under the category of Order Maintenance type functions such as traffic enforcement, responding to noisy parties, settling neighbour disputes and providing direction at road construction sites and parades. Contrast this with the fact that 80 per cent of police training in this province focuses on use of force scenarios, firearms competency, tactical training and physical fitness. Less than twenty percent of training given to police recruits, deals with communications, mediation, alternative dispute resolution and mental health issues. Clearly there is something wrong with this picture.
Given these facts, it’s not surprising to learn that in the 2012-13 Annual Report of the Office of the Independent Police Review Director over 90 per cent of all complaints against police are conduct related, with the vast majority occurring in traffic related and order maintenance type situations. The Macdonald-Laurier Report questions whether we need to be paying $83 thousand a year to a police officer who has less than three months training to deal with the mentally ill, homeless and marginalized members of our community when they are the least trained and least qualified to deal with these types of people and social issues. The report suggests that communities should be hiring ‘Civilian Experts’ to deal with these issues and to restrict police work solely to crime and law enforcement functions.
The time has come to demand value for every police dollar and communities have a right to ask the tough questions on behalf of the taxpaying public who are paying for these services. Do we need police officers manning a construction site to expedite traffic flow? Should we expect police officers to know how to deal with people who are mentally ill or severely addicted to drugs? Is it fair to expect police to show cultural sensitivity and understanding to members of our multicultural communities when they lack the training to respond to these challenges? Can we continue to jug along paying out astronomical salaries that simply do not measure up to the quality of service that communities should be demanding and rightfully expecting from their police service?
These are questions that we need answers to and perhaps the time has come to rethink the role of police in the 21st Century. As someone who has worked and studied policing for many years I believe we need to reconfigure the role and priorities of police in society. By streamlining our police service we can start a process of ‘smart policing’ where police would be restricted to the areas where they should be providing a service such as organized crime, gang violence, homicides, child sexual exploitation and human trafficking. By reallocating policing functions to the areas where they should be focused we will have a much more efficient, economical and cost effective approach to dealing with crime. In addition we will have a less expensive and more effective approach for dealing with the social problems we are experiencing in Canada.
Change will not come easily but with crime bottoming out at the lowest point in years we have an ideal opportunity to start the process of conversation and conversion. The policing model of the past twenty years can no longer suffice in 2014 and our politicians and public leaders need to step up to the plate and acknowledge this reality. Canada needs a new focus for the role of police in society and now is the time to act.
Darryl T. Davies
Instructor in criminology and criminal justice
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
NB: The views expressed are those of the authors in his personal capacity.